EARTH HOUSE MANIFESTO
The landscape has always played an important part in my life and in my work.
I have been impressed by Richard Long and Hamish Fulton and more recently by Chris Watson. The great out of doors can be a place of refuge, of solace and contemplation. It is a physical place and a place of endurance. Being molly coddled indoors for too long can play havoc with the élan. I feel invigorated and inspired whilst journeying, it is never adequate to ride in a car or on a plane without at some point getting out and feeling the elements against the skin. Werner Herzog has also had an impact on my work and he says something like this: “the volume and depth and intensity of the world is something that only those on foot will ever experience.”
As a child I spent hours off ground in trees or tending rhubarb. My bloodline on both sides of the family is rooted in farming or ploughing, filth abounds. As a student I was always looking to get out and make work, I felt a kindred spirit in the art of Andy Goldsworthy. I was also interested however in performance and wanted to show the body within the landscape, to tell stories, to attempt a folk laureate.
It was all of this that eventually led me to Ben Woolford, a friend and collaborator who had spent a fair amount of his time outside to boot. We had both travelled extensively throughout Latin America and this would always impact on our ‘final vocabulary’.
We made my first short linear narrative film together; SMART ALEK, which was an attempt to rework some of my darker childhood memories. They were predominantly about going to the sea side for a holiday, watching the landscape shoot by from the back of a very small car, squashed in with other siblings. The arrival and the despair at having to be with the parents. The angst of adolescence and the wishing we were all dead. Black stuff.
However, an intimacy developed between Ben and myself and we perfected a treatment to send to the BFI about a film that I wanted to make that would eventually become GALLIVANT. We used the post card format for the pitch by scribing the themes behind the piece as the coastal outline of Great Britain. We were about to embark on a grand psychogeographical jollyup that galvanised a lot of abstract notions and preoccupations.
There is a creative treatment of reality in GALLIVANT that might well have its roots in the work of people like Grierson or Humphrey Jennings, but these were people that I became aware of in the wake of the film. I was reading Paul Theroux’s Kingdom by the sea whilst making the trip, which worked as an antidote to my own experiences. They were wonderfully positive; the people we met and the places we went were truly inspiring, reassuring. I got a large dose of the landscape. I’d like to think that the film is more about engagement than it is about consumption, more about contemplation than realisation.
This is an attitude that we also applied to the making of This Filthy Earth. It came about one summer when I read Emile Zola’s LA TERRE. I was alone and far from anywhere in a mountain retreat in the French Pyrenees. I had already consumed a lot of John Berger and was particularly impressed by PIG EARTH.
There was something that connected the two writers, a naturalism and honesty. A desire came about to strip bare the Rougon-Macquart novel and prepare it for a possible screenplay. I had never before considered the idea of making a feature length linear narrative but there were so many characters and so many moments within the novel that invited a thorough going over, that the next thing I knew I was spending all my waking hours attempting just this.
I was particularly reassured to find out that on its publication Zola experienced maniacal outrage from a lot of the literary world.
“A misbegotten thing which should never have seen the light of day, it reveals Zola’s disposition to exploit the public’s attitude for obscene literature. Not only did he slander the peasant but, worse still he betrayed an inherently vulgar soul,” and “this book is a deliberately assembled collection of sweepings, a compost heap, a monument to contemporary progress rivalling Eiffel’s iron syringe,” and “any woman who will have soiled her mind with our maniac’s latest picture of wallowing swine, any woman who will have endured , with no ill effects, the foul words he fished up from the cesspool in which he dips his pen, will be, by that very fact, shamed.”
It was with this that I embarked on yet another journey with my co writer Sean lock. He was keen to get his hands dirty and had also spent time erect and alert in the great out of doors. We invented a language for the inhabitants of our world, a Gramlot, which was neither here nor there, it was something that I was also determined to achieve with the final look of the film. A poetic reality with roots in an Eastern European landscape.
A brutal and unforgiving world of inbreed where tenderness and decorum is a luxury that the inhabitants can ill afford. It is with the film now finally behind me that I can reconfigure and structure a lot the inspirations and ideas that have always informed my work and to this end I offer you an eArthouse declaration of spurious intent.
eARTHHOUSE DECLARATION OF SPURIOUS INTENT
1 - The film should belong or at least seem to belong to the earth
2 - The film makers should use only natural light or at night sun gun light.
3 - The film itself should always show signs of the berserk or slightly psychotic, an attempt to reflect the human condition.
4 - All directors statements should include as a footnote something of worth, ie a recipe or instructions on how to make a piece of furniture.
5 - Only the director to handle dead animals and dead animal inner parts.
6 - All hand held off ground filming to be undertaken by the director.
7 - Any wounds or injuries sustained on set to be dressed on set in order that the production is not kept hanging about.
8 - All film makers to have spent time with their arms or feet inside another sentient being, alive or dead.
9 - The editing process should be as sculptural as possible, where edit lists are ignored and sound is treated with as much respect as picture.
10 - The director should dig like an archaeologist to get to the heart of the matter.
11 - Special effects are to be used only if they are special.
12 - The shoot should always prove a physical and athletic challenge rather than just an aesthetic one.
14 - The local community should always be involved with the film making process.
15 - Wherever possible all journeys on and around set should be made on foot.
16 - All actors to perform their own stunts apart from all difficult full body contact sequences in which case the director should act as stand in.
17 - The work should always prove anti stuckist and genuinely post modern, ie it should be contingent and ad hoc in its thinking. Signifiers should abound.